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When Will Ro-Ro Shipping Resume in Baltimore?

Published by Tamar Hela.

When Will Ro-Ro Shipping Resume in Baltimore?

The recent Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore has disrupted services. The Port of Baltimore, home to a thriving shipping industry, is temporarily closed. Because of the disaster, ships were unable to come in or get out of the port. And one of the shipping services halted at the Baltimore Port is Ro-Ro shipping.

Ro-Ro, or roll-on/roll-off shipping, is a popular shipping method in the industry. Used to transport all kinds of vehicles, it's quick and saves time. Many auto shipping companies prefer this method to the more complicated one of containerized shipping.

Unfortunately, the timeline is vague for when Ro-Ro shipping will begin again in the Baltimore Port. To answer the question of when Ro-Ro shipping will resume in Baltimore, we must rely on the timeline set by authorities. In this article, let’s take a look at when the reopening of one the busiest ports in the US East Coast will be here.

The Background of Port of Baltimore

The Baltimore Port is officially known as the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore. Located close to the Chesapeake Bay, it lies on one of the branches of Patapsco River. This Maryland port is known as the largest port facility for roll-on/roll-off ships. It's also the ninth largest port in the United States for international cargo.

The port is not the largest, but the volume of imports and exports is still significant. It sees more than one million containers annually. Naturally, the port's closure will result in a major supply chain disruption[1] .

In 2023, the Baltimore Port recorded 52.3 million tons of cargo with a value of $80.8 billion. The Maryland state government stated the port supported around 15,000 direct jobs and close to 140,000 jobs in related industries.

The port leads in the shipping of farming and construction machinery. Top imports in the port are sugar and gypsum. Meanwhile, the top export product in the port is coal—it's the second largest in the country.

The state of Maryland is boasted to have the lowest rate of cargo damage. It's the only US port with a specialized team for handling Ro-Ro (Quality Cargo Handling Action Team.) The team involves labor, management, and service providers; they meet every month for performance assessment and problem identification. This way, they can take the appropriate corrective action.

With Ro-Ro shipping as its specialty, the port provides almost 200 acres of pavement at Dundalk Marine Terminal for the equipment. This land is bigger than many competing ports, the state claims. Infrastructure development also takes priority so the port can handle larger vessels to answer the Ro-Ro shipping demand.

Indeed, Baltimore's Ro-Ro shipping volumes have been robust in recent years. The port's continuous efforts to upgrade its facilities and improve its services ensure the success of Ro-Ro shipping.

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The Port of Baltimore Closure and Reopening Schedule

You can expect all shipping services, including Ro-Ro shipping, to return to normal in Baltimore as soon as the port is reopened.

The incident

The bridge collapse incident happened after Dali, a container vessel, ran into one of the bridge's supports. The vessel is operated by Synergy Group from Singapore. But the cargo carried by the vessel was chartered by shipping giant Maersk of Denmark.

Because of the bridge collapse, vessel traffic was suspended. At the time of the incident, six commercial ships were stuck inside the port. Meanwhile, other ships heading towards the port are held at or redirected to Chesapeake Bay.

The response

The Maryland government has set up a website to follow the timeline of responses following the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse.

Currently, cleanup efforts are concentrated towards saving and removing shipping containers from Dali. Also, a two-pronged approach is used to clear the canal; above water removal goes together with subsurface removal.

The container removal process is expected to take weeks. The vessel is 948 feet in length, so it may take a while to tow the ship. As of mid-April, out of 180 containers that are expected to be removed, 40 so far have been successfully offloaded.

The Unified Command team continues to work hard towards reopening the port. The Command team consists of Synergy Marine (Dali's management company), the US Coast Guard, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the state of Maryland's Department of the Environment, Transportation Authority, and State Police.

The reopening schedule

The United States Army Corps of Engineers offered a tentative timeline for the port's reopening at the end of April 2024. The goal seems to be to open a 35-foot channel for one-way traffic at the end of the month. But two-way traffic may only resume at the end of May, when a 50-foot deep channel opens.

It's safe to assume that this timeline is valid for Ro-Ro shipping, a major operation at the Baltimore Port. However, whether this becomes a reality or not, we will have to follow the news.

A Brief Overview of Ro-Ro Shipping

Why is Ro-Ro so important? This method of loading and unloading cargo to and from a shipping vessel using a ramp is very common in the shipping industry. Unlike traditional methods where cargo is lifted using cranes, Ro-Ro allows vehicles and other heavy machinery to drive onto the ship and be secured in place.

The Efficiency of Ro-Ro Shipping

A huge advantage of Ro-Ro shipping is its efficiency in handling large and heavy cargo. Ro-Ro transport ships are designed especially to handle carrying many vehicles. They often have spacious decks and ramps to smoothly and quickly load and unload vehicles. The method eliminates the need for cranes or any other lifting equipment. Hence, it saves time and money.

Flexibility with Ro-Ro Shipping

Another benefit of this method is flexibility in the types of cargo it can handle. It's not just small vehicles like regular sedans or mini SUVs. Ro-Ro vessels can transport trucks, buses, and even heavier machinery. Construction machinery, military equipment and vehicles, as well as farming vehicles can go onto a Ro-Ro vessel without any problems.

This versatility makes it a popular choice in many industries. Automotive, manufacturing, and agriculture can take advantage of it. The military, too, can benefit from this method.

baltimore-bridge-02.jpg

Safety with Ro-Ro Shipping

Safety is also no issue with Ro-Ro. Unless the vessel is compromised (such as in the case of the Key Bridge collapse), Ro-Ro vessels will keep the vehicles they transport secure. There are various fastening and locking mechanisms to keep vehicles and machinery stable during transport. Other measures like fire suppression systems and the provision of trained on-board crew are also available.

The Convenience of Ro-Ro Shipping

Compared to container ships, Ro-Ro ships are more convenient logistically. The cargo does not require assembly/disassembly or lifting using expensive equipment. The method also involves fewer handling steps, reducing the need for additional packaging. The process from departure to delivery is more streamlined.

Alternative solutions for Ro-Ro shipping

While Ro-Ro shipping at the Port of Baltimore is temporarily stopped, shippers must come up with contingency plans. Since maritime shipping seems to be unavailable for the port for the time being, an alternative solution is to rely on air or land transport.

Normally, the suggested alternative for Ro-Ro shipping is containerization. However, cargo containers using maritime vessels may not be able to operate as usual in the Baltimore port. So this method may not be a viable solution.

Air Transport as an Alternative to Ro-Ro Shipping

One alternative is to shift from maritime transport to air transport. However, air transport for cargo is decidedly more expensive. That's why it's best to use multi-modal transportation.

Using a Combination of Shipping Methods

Multi-modal transportation calls for the combination of different transportation modes. While it's more complex, as it may involve a combo of air/sea, rail, and road transportation, it may provide a solution for cargo going from or coming to Baltimore.

Furthermore, it offers greater accessibility, especially in landlocked regions. Cities with limited port infrastructure may also benefit. For these areas, especially in the East Coast, goods can still reach their final destinations in a timely and efficient manner.

Final Thoughts

Ro-Ro shipping will resume in Baltimore as soon as the port reopens. You can look forward to the end of April for operations to return in some capacity. However, for the full operations at the Port of Baltimore to recommence, you may have to wait until end of May 2024 or longer.

While incidents may happen suddenly, you can trust A-1 Auto Transport to prioritize the safety of your vehicle transport. So, get your free quote right now and make sure shipping professionals keep your goods in safe hands.

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Tamar Hela is one of our featured writers at A-1 Auto Transport, researching everything from AI auto shipments out of China to what paperwork is required to move long distance. We can safely say she's become well versed in all things shipping and logistics while making the information easy to digest and understandable. 

Tamar has been a copywriter for over 16 years and was trained in the 7-Figure Copywriting Accelerator course through American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI). She's also an incredibly seasoned copyeditor, having previously been the Chief Editor and Publishing Director for Cosby Media Productions, based in Atlanta, Georgia. 

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